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Knowing Your Place and Making Do: Radical Arts Activism in Black and Latino Los Angeles, 1968-1984


Building on scholarship that continues to expand the cultural topography of the city, this dissertation investigates a constellation of arts organizations founded and managed by people of color in Los Angeles from 1968-1984. Arts associations such as the Black Arts Council (1968- 1972) and grassroots art spaces like Self Help Graphics (1972-present) and the Museum of African American Art (1976-present) established the artistic networks of apprenticeship, instruction and affiliation for much of the Black and Latino artistic production since the 1960s. Equal parts activist headquarters and alternative art spaces, these groups provided exhibition opportunities for Black and Latino artists and rallied significant audiences of color to financially and ideologically support their work. Groups of like-minded Black and Latino activists and artists disillusioned with the public art museum instead founded alternative art spaces in defiance of a dominant culture’s attempts at keeping aggrieved racial and ethnic communities invisible. Protesting their exclusion from the city’s main museums, these groups turned churches, street corners and parking lots into temporary exhibition spaces and art studios. Through community oriented programming and exhibition making, they generated large membership constituencies and attracted audiences that reached into the thousands. By reformatting the dominant culture’s products, these groups made art applicable and meaningful to demographic groups that the museum as an institution continues to neglect, ignore and misunderstand. Analyzed as a series of case studies, these art formations provide insights into the popular uses and re-readings of the spaces, frameworks and alliances by which art has traditionally been activated, curated, exhibited and received.

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